An Arab Spring ... for the Kurds?
Not if the Kurdish leadership can help it.
One generally overlooked part of the Arab Spring (a phrase I detest yet can't seem to escape) has been Iraq.Skip to next paragraph
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The country has had eight years of American-led military occupation, so it doesn't fit neatly into the Western media narrative of young, fed-up Arabs railing against oppression. Iraq's protests over rampant corruption and autocratic official behavior have been dismissed by the nation's leaders as the result of outside agitation (sound familiar?) and largely consigned to the back pages.
Iraq already got rid of its dictator, after all. We're told by the US that Iraq is one of the region's strongest democracies. So, surely its people aren't fed up in the same way with their government, right? (Well, no.)
And it's not just Arab Iraqis. If Iraq is awkward for the media narrative, then the Kurds have tied it into pretzels. The ethnic minority was gassed by Saddam Hussein at Halabja, were protected as a de facto independent enclave by a no-fly zone after the first Gulf War, emerged as kingmakers in the Iraqi parliament, and are generally portrayed in the press as America-loving, western-leaning success story.
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When Saddam was still in power, "free Kurdistan" was a popular stop for journalists, who were welcomed with open arms by Kurdish leaders and their doughty peshmerga fighters. After the US invasion and the insurgency had begun, a reporting trip to Kurdistan was a welcome relief from the grind of Arab Iraq's civil war. The Kurds were the little guy, and sand had been kicked in their faces (and far worse) for centuries, so their coverage was and has been generally positive.
But Kurdistan's leaders behave much like the autocrats of the Arab world, and their own people have been chafing at their restraints amid the uprisings from Tunisia to Syria. The Kurdish government has met local protests with violence and repression.
In Sulaymaniyah last month, government forces violently cleared Sara Square of democracy protesters. The square had been visited by hundreds of mostly young Kurds every day, demanding an end to the corruption and entrenched patronage networks of Kurdistan's two ruling parties and fair elections.